In transcribing images for BillionGraves as well as other genealogical records, I have been extremely frustrated in trying to decipher blurry, obscured, or faded records. I feel personally responsible when I can’t correctly transcribe an image because I know that means it won’t be accessible for anyone to search for later on. And that’s the whole goal of our project, right?

So I’ve compiled 7 ways you—as  as a photographer of these valuable, fading records—can improve every image you take and therefore make both transcribers and genealogists love you forever (and I mean forever)!

1. Frame your photo well.

The headstone you are photographing should fill up as much of the frame as possible without cutting off any of the headstone.

The name on the right is cut off, framing is too small.
Too much grass. Get your camera closer to the headstone.
Too close
YES! This is perfect!



2. Take pictures at the right angle.

The more straight-on your picture is, the better. Taking pictures from any angle besides straight on can distort the words on the headstone and make it nearly impossible to transcribe. For upright monuments, bend down to get a better angle for the picture.

10 points for perfect form here!
Bending down to get a better framed shot or to avoid plants/decorations obstructing the headstone is the best way to get a good shot.



3. Link images correctly.

Some headstones are either too large or are actually made up of two connected headstones. If this is the case, take a picture of the WHOLE headstone first, then take close ups on the different sections of the stone.

MAKE SURE the little chain link in the bottom left corner of your screen is highlighted in blue before taking the close ups!

This blue box signifies that the image you are about to take will be linked to the previous one. Always double check that you are linking the correct headstones together!
Take a picture of the whole headstone first…
…then take the first close-up (in this case, the top part of the headstone)…
…and then the bottom part (and however many more you need to get close-eups of the whole stone).



4. Avoid taking blurry images.

Allow your camera to focus before clicking the green picture button. It’s very tempting to rush through the picture taking process in order to capture more images, but make sure you’re not forfeiting your images because you’re going too fast.

This would be an easy headstone to transcribe…if the picture wasn’t so blurry.
Let your camera focus before taking close-up pictures especially.



5. Clear off any debris before you take the picture.

Make sure you set aside any decorations and remove any of the debris/growth that is covering up any part of the headstone  (you might want to take some grass clippers with you).

And don’t forget to move your feet out of the picture!

Grass and leaves make this picture nearly illegible (not to mention the fact that most of this picture is grass, not headstone!).
Make this picture better by a) brushing off old grass, b) trimming back the grass growing over it and c) moving your feet out of the shot.

6. Make sure the lighting is right.

The best time to take pictures is when the sky is slightly overcast. Different times of the day are better for taking pictures of certain kinds of headstones. In any case, pay attention to how light or dark your picture is. Schedule your trips to the cemetery when the lighting is right and beware of shadows—including your own!

Helpful hint: Consider taking an umbrella, flashlight, mirror, or grab the sunshade from your car to either block out the harsh sunlight or to reflect some light on the back side of headstones that are in the shadows.

#179757 East Cemetery, Indiana
The sunlight behind the stone makes the front of this one incredibly difficult to read.
#1904248 Saint John's Cemetery larger
The lighting this time of day is great for the front side of this stone although you might encounter too much shadow when trying to photograph the back.
#1375065 Oakwood Cemetery, Texas--Lighting
The harsh noon-day lighting in this photo actually made the photo greenish and decreased the quality of the image. Avoid taking pictures when it’s this bright outside.






7. View your images before you leave the cemetery.

Don’t forget to make sure they turned out okay! This is the equivalent of checking your answers before you turn in your test: go back and review your photos so every record on BillionGraves will get an A for Accuracy!


What things have you found make the best pictures? Anything I missed? I’d love to hear from both photographers AND transcribers!